If you look back at the history of human civilization, and the last 100 years in particular, you will see a history that is, for the most part, dominated and driven by science. The scientific method and its results have transformed humanity from superstitious tribesmen to gods that can control almost every aspect of themselves and the environment. Yet, beneath the glamorous technology that science has enabled lays a system that is outdated, inefficient, and broken. From the education of future scientists to the equipment needed to carry out basic research, the process of discovery and innovation is hampered by commercialization and inefficiency. The university, once a bastion of knowledge and exploration, is now nothing more than a toll booth. First, students must spend up to $200,000 (much of it with debt that follows them through bankruptcy) for the privilege of teaching themselves from outdated textbooks that cost thousands more. They then enter the modern laboratory, funded by organizations that value the quantity of research over quality and stocked by research equipment manufacturers that gouge their clients by pricing equipment five or ten times what they are worth. Here they start their journey of pumping out research articles, for which they don’t get paid, so that companies like Wiley and Elsevier can make 40% profit margins for simple file hosting. Professorship and tenure is their only respite, the so called white light at the end of the tunnel, yet if they take that path they will be relegated to spending the rest of their lives teaching and writing grants. If instead these scientists decide to enter the corporate world, they will most likely spend their lives trying to increase the efficiency of ammonia synthesis or engine output by 3% instead of curing cancer or building the next rocket that will fly to Mars. The rapid growth of scientific research and knowledge in the last century is unsustainable under the weight of all of these problems. In order to maintain humanity’s momentum and tackle the global problems that we face now and in the next 50 years, in order to save future generations from the problems we’ve created, we need to open science up to the masses, making it more democratic and efficient. This talk is about how citizens, without involvement from the government or private industries, can help solve science’s problems.
9th–13th March 2012